UPDATE: If you’re struggling right now or have questions that you’re afraid to ask, you can ask me anything anonymously on my Formspring page. I’m not a professional, but I’m here for you, and I’d like to help if I can.
Earlier today, I read this post, a reposting of a suicide note. A programmer I’d been introduced to took his own life.
My hands shook as I read it because about two and a half years ago, I wrote almost the same letter, myself.
Bill Zeller (pictured above) and I had a lot in common. Fundamentalist upbringings. Childhood abuses. Struggles with alcohol and drug abuse. Unrelenting anger and yes, a terrifying darkness that permeated every aspect of life.
I planned to tell this story later in my life, but after reading Bill’s final words, I don’t think I should wait any longer. If saying this now helps even one person a little bit, it’s by far worth any pride I might sacrifice in sharing my most private struggle. Still, my hands are shaking again as I type; this is far from easy.
Through the summer of 2008, I was starting to lose a long-standing battle with myself. All my life, I had been angry and afraid for reasons quite similar to those Bill described in his letter. And everything I had done to try to rid myself of my terror had only made it worse.
Drinking. Drug use. Sobriety. Relationships. Moving from one place to another. Moving from one job to another. None of it worked, none of it mattered. In the end, I always, always ended up feeling terrified and alone.
Like Bill, I had seen many doctors, none of whom had helped. They all gave me pills and platitudes, staving off the inevitable for another few weeks or months.
So by the summer 2008, I was about to turn 27 years old, and I was completely exhausted from trying so hard to be and feel normal. I was so tired of being alone, afraid, and angry all the time. I had waited months and years for these feelings to go away, and I had done everything in my power to stop feeling them. That summer, for a few weeks, every day when I woke up and at night when I went to bed, I thought of my friends and family, people who would be hurt by my suicide.
That worked for a couple weeks. Then, under so much unrelenting emotional pain, it stopped working. I had to think only of my immediate family, especially my younger sister and brother — how would they feel if I were to selfishly take my life? Eventually, only thinking about my mom’s inevitable anguish kept me from killing myself.
Then, one day, even that didn’t matter any more.
I had been in too much pain for too long, and I was done. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I took a couple days to give away almost all of my possessions. I wrote a will and a few goodbye letters, including a final blog post, encouraging others suffering as I had suffered to seek help. Then, on my birthday, I vacated my house, went to a rather dismal dinner with two friends, and prepared to fall asleep on a friend’s couch.
Before falling asleep, I swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, a handful of Valium and Vicodin, and about half a bottle of some other sedative my then-psychiatrist had given me. I was so relieved as I realized that blackness was washing over me for the last time.
Three days later, I woke up in a hospital. I was enraged.
After months and months of intellectually and spiritually struggling to make the decision to end my life, society had taken that choice away from me.
The kicker was, the terror was still there. I was alive with absolutely no desire to live.
I went to live with my mother and stepfather in Japan for a few months, realizing that if I had to be alive — and it appeared that for some reason, I did have to — I had better give myself a reason to do so. Even a stupid reason, any reason at all. I had to give myself a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
It was difficult, and it took months, but I eventually did find that something. For me, crawling back from that low point involved a tiny, daily commitment to creativity. It was small and really stupid, but it gave me something to think about every day other than how much I hated this life.
The best part is, I don’t hate it anymore. In the past two years after hitting that most absolute rock bottom, I have rebuilt a life I actually want to live. I decided I had already suffered and given everything over to the past, and that it was time to start living for the future, a future in which I would do amazing, wonderful things and be genuinely happy.
It is a miracle that I’m alive. But for me, the greater miracle is that I want to be alive and that I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for anything.
After reading Bill’s letter, I knew I had to share what had happened to me. But what good would it do?
It’s not enough just to tell the world that I was depressed and attempted suicide once upon a time. That helps no one.
Here’s what I will say to anyone who’s struggling with the same issues: Keep getting help. I know you’ve probably tried reaching out to friends, family, therapists, psychiatrists. Maybe they’ve even thrown you in the loony bin once or twice (been there!).
But if you still feel like shit, keep getting help until you get help that helps YOU.
Keep looking for that one friend, loved one, or doctor who will say the one thing or give you the one tool that will change your life. Don’t waste time faking it; if someone’s not helping you, let them know that whatever they’re doing is adversely affecting how you feel. I know you’re tired; as you can probably now believe, I’ve been that tired, too. But it is so, so worth it to just keep trying to get the help you need.
The other part is incredibly simple and difficult at the same time. You’ve got to stop living for the people who’ve hurt you and the things that have happened to you, and you’ve got to start living for yourself. Do the things that make you joyful inside.
Here’s something that helped me do that. Visualize a perfect fantasy of a world in vivid detail, figure out what you love about those fantasies, and start to make those things part of your reality. As depressed as I was, life had been joyless, dark, and colorless for a long time. Even trying to imagine a perfect world where life was enjoyable and people were nice would make me burst into tears. But over time, I figured out that I could claim and resuscitate what remained of my years on earth and imbue them with people, things, and moments large and small that would make me happier.
For people who, like me and like Bill, have gone through hell for a good deal of our lives, just being is an enormous struggle. Being happy and whole seems like an impossibility. And I’m not going to downplay exactly how excruciatingly difficult that is.
But my being alive — and being blissfully, successfully, fully alive — is proof that even the most depressed and hopeless of people can still have an amazing future.
Don’t give up, not ever. I love you.
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